Interview by Ben Peek
Colin Sharpe is the publisher of the tri-annual manga anthology Xuan Xuan (pronounced swan swan). It’s 80 to 120 pages per issue, and five bucks (US). Kicks the shit outta eating the crap you could buy for that fiver and a bit.
1) There are times that I think that the freshest speculative fiction work is being done in comics, and especially in manga. There’s a real energy and sense of youth too it, regardless of who creates it, and while that simply might be a response to our cultural time, I think it’s one of the most valuable aspects to it. How do you see those things in Xuan Xuan, in terms of content and readership?
In terms of the content, one of the things that really surprised us was the age of the people contributing the content. Our youngest contributor was 15 when she first started to contribute to Xuan Xuan. Her work was certainly to a standard worth printing, and we were enormously excited to see what sort of work she would be creating as she got older. That has been one of the main aims of Xuan Xuan, to promote up and coming artists until they’re popular enough that we ultimately lose them to other projects. Our other contributors are not that much older. The energy was something we noticed from the beginning, and is definitely there in the work, and their attitude to it.
From a readership standpoint, we knew the market to a certain extent, and knew that we would be aiming it at a youth audience. We specifically adopted a policy of no hentai, no x-rated violence and so forth, because we knew that our readership was likely to be young. It was something that was quite apparent from the number of young people who were starting to be involved in the anime fan community, which I have been involved with for some time now. I was beginning to feel old at 28, but some of that enthusiasm does rub off, and that can only be good!
2) You state on your website that Xuan Xuan isn’t really manga, but rather doujinshi, which is manga produced by fan or amatuers. In the speculative fiction side of things, those terms come with their own genre weight–fan work often leading to fan-fiction, or fan writing (which is about established works) and amatuers (or semi-professionals) are dismissed as not being competent enough to hold a readers attention. How’s that different with doujinshi? Or is there no difference at all, and you find that people enter with a similar set of ideas?
The doujinshi scene is vastly different than the fan-fiction and fan writing scene. Professional manga artists, or manga ka, are often found publishing little side and underground projects within the doujinshi scene. There are vast conventions and swap meets dedicated to doujinshi in Japan, and a lot of the professional manga creators cut their teeth there. Doujinshi can be based on established works, and a lot of it is, but it can also be original works by creators who have not yet signed a publishing contract. It is one of those terms that can be a little nebulous in its meaning, but the perception of doujinshi works is higher, I would say, than that of fan-fiction. Due to anime and manga being more widely available, and understood culturally, nowadays, most of our readers already have an understanding of what doujinshi is. We felt that the distinction was important, and have thus included it, as our contributors are not yet professional, but we hope that through anthologies like Xuan Xuan, they will get the chance to move on and take that next step.
3) Through this series of interviews, I’ve spoken to small press publishers who state that there’s only financial risk promised in publishing, that there’s no money, and so on and so forth… I imagine you find the same thing with Xuan Xuan, but if you could give a bit of an insight into the realities of producing a manga like this, it’d be most insightful.
There are different risks and challenges involved with manga that are not present in other forms of small press. One of the risks we run in doing ongoing serials is that we may lose artists, and indeed we have done. Hopefully new ones will have come along, and usually they have, but that has meant that there are stories that will never finish within Xuan Xuan, which is a little sad.
The actual production of a book like Xuan Xuan is also quite different to other small press, there are a lot more resolution, and image reproduction issues involved, as every page is a drawing. Thankfully, I’ve been a full time graphic artist working within the printing industry for many years, and so I had a very good working knowledge of what to expect, but there were still surprises. Your computer tends to run out of RAM very quickly when you’re working with 100+ pages that are all graphics. So you have to adopt ways of managing those pages better, or spend a lot of money on buying faster processors, and more RAM.
And it’s true, you won’t make it rich doing this. Never do it for money, do it for the love of it.
4) You’re dead. In true hentai fashion… well, it had tentacles. Still, you go to Heaven (assuming you believe, naturally) and you see God. You say?
Please tell me we’re not related. I’ve seen what you did to your son.
5) Favourite swear word?
I have a few that I use, depending on context. I like ‘Gordon Bennet’ for mild annoyance, ‘Shit’ for more startled annoyance, but nothing beats ‘Fuck’ at the top of your voice for when you’ve just dropped an anvil on your foot or you’ve heard they’ve brought Doctor Who back to tv.